by Ray Jason
AVENTURA was lunging over the crests of fourteen-foot waves and then plunging down their backs with rollicking gusto. My enthusiasm was considerably more tempered. In other words, I was semi-terrified. The passage from Grand Cayman to Key West had already been a test of my solo sailing skills, and I had hoped that on the last night before arrival, the conditions would be pleasant. But instead they were punishing.
The wind was over 30 knots and because it was in the opposite direction of the powerful Gulf Stream, the waves were not just large but they were also steep and confused. This was a perfect dark frightening night for anyone who wanted to experience the power and fury of Mother Ocean.
I had been trying to reach the Coast Guard by radio to check and see if all of the lighthouses along the reefs were functioning properly, but I was getting no response. Then suddenly another sailboat hailed me and asked for my position. We were about 5 miles apart and he too was headed for Key West. We shared some fear-laced humor about the abysmal sea conditions and then I asked him where he was coming from. There was a profound pause … and then he said he was returning from the “South Tortugas.” At first this befuddled me because I had never heard of these islands, and then it suddenly hit me and I congratulated him on his clandestine visit to “The Forbidden Isle – CUBA.”
We agreed to meet in person the next day and that afternoon he introduced me to one of the world’s best waterfront dives – The Schooner Wharf Bar. We swapped stories and enjoyed our beers while the resident musician crooned his trademark song in the background. It’s called, “I just came down for the weekend, 35 years ago!” My new friend regaled me with fantastic stories of his cruises to Cuba. His enthusiasm was intoxicating, and I knew that I had to experience it on my own. Fortunately, I help support my vagrant sea gypsy ways by writing articles for the big sailing magazines. This allows me travel opportunities not open to everyone.
Aside from the normal charms of a Cuban visit, I was also drawn there because I had previously traveled to the other two main exemplars of Communism in action – Russia and China. I had enjoyed those journeys immensely and had been treated well by almost everyone I met. But even though the people had been cordial there was a somber pall of grayness or diminished possibilities that shrouded their lives. It deeply saddened me that it was nearly impossible for the ordinary Russian or Chinese person to travel about the world as I was doing.
So, I was interested in whether the Cuban citizens would seem as “beaten down” by their centralized system as so many of the Russian and Chinese people were. Fortunately, they were not. Perhaps it is just the difference in latitude and climate, but all of the effervescence and rhythmic joy that one associates with the tropics was still alive and rambunctious in The South Tortugas. Even the everyday colors in the tapestry of their lives were more vibrant. Instead of the massive, gray Soviet bloc architecture there were brightly painted little houses with colorful shirts and dresses billowing from the clotheslines.
Another important answer that I was seeking during my time in Cuba was whether they would be hostile towards Americans. After all, the U.S. had harmed them immensely with its half a century embargo. As with most political policies, these sanctions did not achieve their goal, which was to remove Fidel Castro from power. Instead, they had devastating effects on the common people who suffered all sorts of daily hardships and deprivations. And to show how totally absurd and counter-productive this plan was, Fidel proved to be the longest enduring leader in the entire world. He remained in power for about FORTY years. Well done, Council on Foreign Relations!!!
To my utter amazement the regular people in Cuba were as friendly to me as if I was a Canadian, whose national policies were not designed to strangle their country. Here is an excellent example. When I was in a tiny spot on the south coast, a hurricane was bearing down on us. The local fishermen approached me and said that if the storm continued moving in our direction, that they would take me with them to a hidden hurricane hole where I could ride out the tempest safely. When I replied that AVENTURA was not fast enough to keep up with their big boats with their powerful engines, they assured me that one of them would travel at my speed and lead me to the safe haven.
I experienced this type of friendship and compassion all throughout the country and it confirmed once again a theory that I have argued since my sophomore year in college: “People everywhere are mostly decent and caring. It is the political and religious leaders who trump up differences amongst us that cause the injustice and tragedy that plague our lush, wet, beautiful planet!”
Thus, when a political leader suddenly decides to change a decades-long policy, my suspicion-meter starts beeping out an alarm. So, as a way of again thanking the Cuban people who were so pleasant and gracious to me, I am sending you a little Christmas gift through cyberspace. It is a warning to be very cautious of what these gringos are really up to. Just the phrase “normalizing relations” should cause you to be on full alert.
After all, what has “normalizing relations” led to in country after country in Latin America – but a reign of tyranny and terror? They arrive in their tailored suits offering to help you. But in fact they are there to help themselves … to your timber or bauxite or sugar cane or laborers. If you refuse to sell them your resources, they buy politicians who do this work for them for a cut of the obscene profits. And should a reform leader emerge, they marginalize him. And if that fails, they murder him.
Due to my relentless desire to understand how the world truly works, I have adopted what I perceive as a very realistic cynicism. And as I try to unravel what might be the ACTUAL motives behind this abrupt policy reversal, here are some of my speculations:
- There is a significant oil basin off the northwest coast of Cuba that is unknown to most people, but very well known to the American petroleum industry.
- With Venezuela’s economy struggling due to the decline in crude oil prices, the U.S. views this as an excellent time to cozy up to Cuba and drive a wedge between the Forbidden Isle and her strongest ally – Venezuela. And it will probably be revealed that this drop in prices has been a deliberate manipulation for a combo platter of political reasons.
- U.S. corporations realize that they now face two enormous problems: a global economic downturn and worldwide market saturation. They must be salivating at the prospect of getting at those tens of millions of virgin customers in the sunny South Tortugas.
- The Pope helped broker this change in policy. Could his altruistic motives have been slightly tarnished by the prospect of reclaiming those many million Catholics from the non-religious hell that they have inhabited for a half a century? Or was it a heaven since it has been free of the religious bloodshed that stains almost every other region of Earth.
As I try to decipher the “real politic” gamesmanship occurring behind the scenes in this unexpected development, I must emphasize that my over-riding desire is that the end of the horrible embargo can lead to a better quality of life for the ordinary Cuban person. They have suffered long enough and they deserve a future as gleaming as the sunlight on their beaches and sugar cane fields.
I also hope that they will maintain that wondrous strength of character that I witnessed daily as they battled the hardships that were imposed upon them. May they use that power to fend off the tainted goods of the U.S. Un-Culture. They will be besieged with it as the predatory American marketers descend on their cities and villages trying to seduce them with the blinding, pulsing hologram of the electro-techno American Dream. It is a NIGHTMARE – resist it with every ounce of your soulful, joyous courage.
Feliz Navidad, amigos!
“I live aboard my beautiful sailboat, AVENTURA, and wander the wide waters as an itinerant philosopher. My life is simple, free and joyous.”
Ray currently lives on his sailboat in Panama. He previously he was a Key West cab driver.
[Article reprinted from Ray Jason’s blog The Sea Gypsy Philosopher, by permission.]